Birds Out from Behind Bars: The Campaign to Ban Battery Cages
By Paul Shapiro
Gene Gregory [senior vice
president of the United Egg Producers]…commented
on the activities of the Humane Society of the U.S. This group is the
most feared of the activists and is trying to bring all groups together
to create additional power…This organization will be the largest
and biggest problem facing the industry. —Egg Industry
Magazine (July, 2005)
Arguably the most abused of all factory farmed animals today, egg-laying
hens endure misery so extreme in scale and intensity that it is impossible
for us to fully empathize with their plight. In the U.S., intensively
confined in battery cages so restrictive they can’t spread their
wings for months, hundreds of millions of these social, intelligent animals
endure constant suffering and frustration.
In the last half-century, the American egg industry has been on a path
further intensified confinement practices—until now. For the first time,
major retailers are saying no to battery cage cruelty and egg producers are literally
ripping out cages from their sheds. What does this mean for animals? In just
the last 18 months of concerted campaigning against the battery cage, hundreds
of thousands fewer laying hens are confined in cages.
Just as animal protection campaigns have successfully equated veal with animal
cruelty in the minds of many, the campaign against battery cages is quickly enforcing
the idea that no socially responsible business ought to associate itself with
an abuse as abhorrent as battery cage egg production.
Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Natural Marketplace have discontinued all sales
of eggs from caged birds, and Trader Joe’s has done the same with its private
brand eggs. Companies like AOL and Google now refuse to use battery cage eggs
in their corporate employee dining halls, and food service provider Bon Appétit
Management Company is phasing in a no battery egg policy for all of its 400 cafés,
including those for major corporate clients Yahoo!, Adidas, Best Buy and Nordstrom.
Also, nearly 100 U.S. colleges and universities have enacted policies to eliminate
or dramatically reduce their consumption of battery eggs.
The trend is clear: battery cages are being relegated to the dustbin of history
faster than anyone would have imagined just two years ago.
Pragmatic and Effective
The important question is, what replaces the battery eggs? Grocery chains and
food service providers refusing to use battery eggs are still using eggs, even
if they are from cage-free hens. Most cage-free hens come from hatcheries which
kill male chicks and hens may endure debeaking. In many cage-free facilities,
the hens cannot go outside and they are slaughtered at an early age in the same
ways as nearly all commercially-raised laying hens. While cage-free may not mean
cruelty-free, cage-free hens have significant advantages in quality of life than
their caged counterparts. Unlike battery hens, cage-free hens are able to walk,
spread their wings, and lay their eggs in nests. Further, cage-free egg producers
who obtain certification under one of the more reputable standards programs must
provide perching and dust-bathing areas for the birds as well. These advantages
are important and significant to the animals involved.
This campaign is not pursuing an all-or-nothing, absolutist approach. Rather,
it is a pragmatic campaign seeking to tangibly reduce animal suffering by ending
one of the most abusive confinement practices in agribusiness today. This Henry
Spira-style strategy pushes the peanut forward by freeing egg-laying hens from
the confines of battery cages and improving their miserable lives.
We must be careful, however, in describing the campaign to the public to put
forward a truthful message. Cage-free is a factual statement that describes
hens’ housing—simply that these birds are not confined in cages.
It’s one thing to state that not using battery eggs helps reduce animal
suffering and is a move in the right direction. It’s another to claim that
cage-free eggs are by definition “cruelty-free.”
Looking Across the Atlantic: Meaningful Victories for Farm Animals
While a majority of the American public may believe that it’s acceptable
to eat eggs, polls clearly demonstrate that the vast majority of the public does
not believe it’s acceptable to confine birds in cages so small they can
barely move. It’s time for us to translate existing public support for
animals into meaningful movement victories, most notably by banning battery cages.
We have the power and the public support to affect change today. We should not
be willing to abandon millions of animals to endure significantly worse cruelty
than they have to, which is exactly what we do if we don’t support bans—corporate
or legislative—on battery cage confinement that most people already oppose.
European animal activists are strides ahead of us when it comes to banning some
of the cruelest factory farming practices. Countries such as Germany, Austria
and Switzerland have already passed bans on battery cage egg production, and
the entire European Union is phasing out the use of battery cages. There is no
reason the U.S. can’t take those same important steps in the right direction—or
even do better.
The factory farmed animals suffering today are counting on us to help them. Campaigning
to eliminate battery cages at the corporate or governmental level is one effective
way to do just that.
Paul Shapiro is the director of the Factory Farming Campaign of the Humane Society
of the U.S. He is also the founder and former campaigns director of Compassion
Over Killing. To learn more about the campaign visit www.hsus.org.
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